Geoff Little, Chief Executive of Bury Council, provided an update on the progress of the Children’s Services Improvement Programme and the three key challenges identified.
Leadership and Management
Progress was being made to strengthen and stabilise leadership and management. Linda Evans had been appointed as Interim Director of Children’s Social Work Practice, and there was a strong field of candidates for the permanent position. It was also noted that the role of Principal Social Worker was out to advert. This post would enable the continuous improvement of practice and a learning culture across the service.
The Chief Executive advised we faced significant challenges in this area, firstly in recruitment and retention, given the competitiveness of the market and the need to increase the number of case workers to reduce their caseloads. In addition, Bury had a high proportion of agency staff which, combined with high turnover, risked the stability of the service. A workforce strategy for Children’s Services had now been signed off, underpinned by benchmarking analysis of pay rates for social workers which showed we offered competitive rates. Attracting and retaining staff was about more than pay, however, and feedback from staff demonstrated a strong and healthy culture which would be promoted in order to address those wider considerations and attract social workers. In addition, free car parking had been agreed for social workers along with payment of professional fees, and recruitment on a continuous basis was in place. Work was also ongoing to persuade agency workers to take permanent positions in Bury. Finally, it was noted that a proposed restructure in Children’s Services would be coming to Cabinet at its next meeting.
Quality and Practice
Ongoing quality assurance of practice had been strengthened, focusing on the core components of social work practice and signs of improvement were being seen. The relocation of the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub and Complex Safeguarding team back into Bury Police station had been completed, ensuring a fully co-located team across the Council, Health Service and GMP. Finally, the review of the Bury Integrated Safeguarding Partnership was being finalised, with an executive group combining senior leadership across GMP, Health Service and the Council now in place, as well as ongoing independent scrutiny, and cross-service events for frontline staff to improve practice as partnership.
Finally, the Chief Executive reported on feedback from external scrutiny, noting that quality and practice observed was generally good, staff were highly engaged and motivated, and overall there was a committed workforce. It was also noted that leadership was stronger and more visible. Over-reliance on agency staff was still a problem, and further work was needed to strengthen partnership working.
It was noted that the next monitoring visit was expected later in June, and communication events were being held across the department to feedback on the improvement plan and engage staff in its delivery. Thanks were extended to staff for their positive response and resilient morale and commendable work so far.
In response to Members’ questions it was noted that the market for agency staff had grown, offering greater flexibility and pay to social workers, which had led to higher turnover. A large population of the agency staff employed in Bury were stable but this arrangement was costly to the Council, hence the drive to promote the Bury offer and recruit permanent staff. It was noted that national review of Children’s Social Care was taking place, with calls for the government to intervene in the social work market owing to the negative impacts on quality and practice.
Cabinet noted the update.
Reasons for the decision:
This update was provided in response to a resolution of Council at the meeting held on 19 January 2022.
Other options considered and rejected: